Impact of Ethnicity

Age-standardised rates for deaths involving COVID-19 at ages 9 to 64 years by sex and ethnic group, per 100,000 people: England and Wales, occurring 2 May to 15 May 2020

A disproportionate percentage of people in critical care and those who have passed due to COVID-19 in the UK have been from black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) backgrounds. According to statistics from the Intensive Care Nations Audit and Research Centre (covering England, Wales and Northern Ireland) 34% of confirmed cases and 32% of deaths in intensive care of COVID-19 are people from BAME backgrounds. This compares to 14.5% of the population who are of BAME origin.

 

There  are a number of reasons why this could be the case. The first is that people from BAME backgrounds are over-represented in many key-worker industries and consequently are at greater risk of being infected - 20% of all NHS workers are from an ethnic minority background, and 44% of doctors are too.

 

There is also evidence that ethnic minority groups tend to live in deprived, dense over-crowded urban areas and be more likely to be disadvantaged. In some cases household composition could make a difference; in Asian households you often have multi-generational households living together which is important in an highly infectious disease such as COVID-19.

 

Research is looking into whether vitamin D might be an issue, the darker the skin the more slowly vitamin D is produced from sunlight, so Vitamin D deficiency could be a likely factor.

 

In addition, certain ethnic minorities have a greater risk of heart and circulatory disease than others. Research funded by the British Heart Foundation (BHF) found that people with a South Asian background might be more likely to develop coronary heart disease than white Europeans. People from an African or African Caribbean background might have more risk of developing high blood pressure and having a stroke, they also have a greater risk of developing type 2 diabetes (this also applies to South Asian background).

 

To better understand the link between ethnicity, genetics and other biological and socioeconomic factors the BHF is conducting more research as the relationship between ethnic background and COVID-19 is not fully understand and may be influenced by many different factors.

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